Island Blog – Triggers and Returning.

Last night the gale began. It roared like a lion and punched at the walls of the house. I heard bits of masonry fall onto the conservatory roof which is plastic, and I winced from beneath the warm duvet. Sleep left the room at that. Too many before nights on Tapselteerie with my husband or sons at sea or even just out there on the land. I had trees falling on them, waves swallowing them, wind blowing them off cliffs, all of it, because they loved it, the craziness of a gale, the unpredictability of one, the thrill of being a part of such wild wildness. From my place at the window or in bed in the absolute darkness with those punch fists holding destruction in their grip, I shivered. I shattered. All possible tragedy shivered the bones of my heart, my thoughts rollicking from one disaster to another with no happy ending for me or for them. I am still that way.

I went out to feed the birds and was almost lifted off my feet by one vicious gust. I admit I was compromised at the time. Twisting to check the pantiles on the roof, and in a frock #balloon, I felt my legs buckle. I held my stead. Fast. Staggered and remained upright but only just. Later, as the minutes moved into hours and way too slowly as if Time was playing with my mind, teasing most cruelly, I went out again to sort the ferocious flapping of the tarps on the wood stacks. I held onto the drystone wall for support as I lashed them down with old dog leads. We seem to have an abundance of them. Where once this abundance drove me crazy, I am now glad of them. In the latter stages of dementia Himself would purchase more and more of what was of importance to him, dog leads being just one on a very long list. There are still 6 mobile phones, 4 Notepads, iPads, those things, stacking sealable plastic store boxes, leads for everything from the aforementioned to motor bike chargers (no motorbike) small things for back ups on everything electronic, new hand held landline phones and on and on. They lie here still along with Henry in the quiet of the cupboard under the stairs, waiting to be useful.

All day long I sewed more baby mats, completed one, one of 6 that are also waiting. For babies. Soon I will need to ask for babies because when I work at something, there needs to be a point to aim for and in this case, in this time, it is babies. Do we become thus obsessed as we age I wonder or is this lockdown s s s mentality? The isolation plus grieving, can it turn a mind into something we observers might have laughed about, rolled our eyes at, until we find ourselves in that land, where it is no longer a laughing matter? I listen to an audio book as I work, someone else’s story, any story but my own today. I flinch as another crash tells me more masonry is falling. On checking, this time in trews for safety, I see no evidence of demise in my walls. Do I imagine this sound? Is this a trigger for me, an old memory rising in the today of my life? It thinks me.

As I, with help, navigate my unsteady way through grief and loss, I am beginning to notice my reactions to what happens, even small things. I notice when I flinch. I don’t remember flinching as a young woman. with children around my skirts, even as I know I will have done. But there is a difference when it is I who need to be the strong one, the one who can hide an inner flinch and turn it around, make it okay for the fear around me. Instant solutions spring to mind, fuelled by a surety of strength and a solution. On Tapselteerie we had windows blown out in gales. The noise was terrifying and it was always in dead of night. Calming, reassuring, finding an old door to wedge against the blast of a threat, a broom to support, was what we did. Bringing children in close, into bed, finding stories, teaching laughter in the face of terror was what we did. And we did. So many times. Roofs lifting. It’s ok, just watch, I said, as we all stood there in pyjamas and fleeces and facing a gale that could destroy a home in minutes and without another soul knowing anything till morning at best. My own heart might be shakingly terrified but my protection of my children kept me calm and my husband knew what to do. As teenagers they witnessed a whole 32ft mobile home buck and lift and crash back down whilst their dad fired up his digger and held it down with the bucket and chains as the rain drenched us and the collies squealed and disappeared into the darkness. In that darkness, in the shout and scream of that gale, her punch and release, her volatile craziness, my kids whooped and cheered their dad through the sheeting rain and I shivered and shook and tried to keep calm.

A call to arms. Pre our resident lifeboat he was on call if a sea-goer was in trouble, and he was called many times. There was always a storm and it was always dark. He would go, fired up, excited, ready to challenge and to work with Mother Ocean. It always confounded me how good he was at working with her when he was so lost around me, around his daughter. We were strong women too but obviously not speaking a language he understood. Any kids old enough to go with him would be dressed and ready in minutes. Again I am left with the walls shrieking at the gale and my imagination my only companion. I won’t say Friend.

These memories may be triggers. They probably are. Gales mean destruction and I feel impotent when they come. He knew how to prepare for them, knew they were coming and from what direction. He knew what had to be tied down, secured and what lay safe this time. I will learn my way around them for we have plenty of them and each is capricious at best, lethal at worst. New ground. New learning. I remember the whoops of my children. They love it wild, the wilder the better and they are no fools around the wild. They grew up with it, leaned into it, learned from their dad whilst I stayed home making soup for their returning.

Island Blog – Shift, Fly and a Dog’s Questions

This afternoon I walked into Tapselteerie, as I do every single afternoon, small terrier bounding afoot. She is always full of ridickerluss bounce as if we have never walked this way before; as if she and I are about to discover a gruffalo nest or a ferocean of fairies. I pointed out the conkers to her, the star moss, the positive pebbles I hid that someone has moved on, but she just looked at me like I was a weirdo. Her plan is to locate the biggest and longest stick she can find and then lift. She waits for me to forward, then runs full tilt, whacking the backs of my legs with half a hazel tree, thinking it hilarious and most satisfying. I don’t mind. She thinks I don’t know what’s coming, but my advantage is my human brain. I have worked out the math of this particular pole, considered the level of scratchy branch activity, the then width of the track, the level of recent rainfall and its ability to soak my calves. It’s a daily game and only infrequently I am required to say enough is enough. This day was one of those times. The pole would have held up an elephant’s weary head, no bother.

Up in the woods I heard childlaughter, my favourite sort. Poised on a rock and looking like a dream, a little girl squeaks with delight as her father completes the construction of a swing. I can see she will begin on the rock, but the fall away of the hill and the subsequent leap into the sky takes her 20 foot off the ground. She is tiny, wiry, slim and excited and I want to hide. I see a thousand disasters, but she sees none of them and nor does her father. He has swung many times higher in his time, almost to the moon and back, and, for all I know, touching moon base. He is, after all, my son and all of my children are risk takers and always were. I have no idea where they got that from. After successful launch, momentary panic as she looks down to see the blue planet below her tiny butt, followed by a happy landing back on the rock, the game is on, the shift from land to outer space completed.

Back home there is a shift. A sudden shift. In the journey that is dementia, this is oft how it works. Plateau, shift, level out, plateau and shift again. Everyone involved needs to catch up, learn, accept, take action. This is where we are now. Just 2 weeks ago the plateau felt like it was staying flat, for some long time, with only little skips and twirls that showed a gradual demise. But now on this road, the pilgrim has met landfall and it seems there is no way around it for him. He doesn’t want to eat, cannot move anywhere or anyway without help. We, his family, are coming to terms with that but I won’t say it is a natural nor an easy thing to come to terms with nor accept. How could it be? This is Dad. This is the strong provider of 50 years and then some, the one who knew the answers to everything and, if he didn’t, never let on. I remember a violently horrific North Sea crossing when I was so terrified I thought I would faint clean away (but didn’t), with a force 10 gale battering our boat, full sails up because it had come in so fast there was no time to reduce, nor crew (me being terrified) to strap on, walk the slippery deck in lashing rain, and then find the strength to work the winch. But, and but again, he never left the helm, navigated us home to within a few maritime feet of home harbour, using his skills and whatever stars he glimpsed. 17 hours of rocking and no soft cradle in sight, but he got us home and intact. This is the Dad who took risks, flew high and taught all of us to trust in him and to shut up and fly.

This shift is tough. I want to reach out to anyone and everyone who is going through this end game or who has gone through it. My utmost respect and admiration to you all.

Even the dog knows something’s up. She keeps looking at me, a million questions in her eyes.